The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is rolling out a new, more comprehensive approach to fighting drug trafficking, starting in St. Louis and three other cities.
According to the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s St. Louis division, St. Louis was chosen as a pilot for the agency’s “360 Strategy” because of the region’s high rate of violent crime and drug overdoses.
“We have to look at rising rates of violent crime, homicide, rising rates of opioid abuse. The tragic number of heroin overdose deaths began in 2008 and have escalated. So all of those factors bring about the real urgency to bring everyone together so that we are attacking this problem from every direction,” said Special Agent in Charge James Shroba.
As part of the 360 Strategy, the DEA is strengthening ties between police and community outreach programs in St. Louis in order to take a more active role in efforts to treat and prevent drug addiction. There’s also a focus on increasing awareness about the prescription drug epidemic through relationships with pharmacists, drug manufacturers and others in the medical field.
Together with law enforcement collaboration, the focus on community outreach and the push for the responsible use and prescription of narcotics make up the three pillars of the 360 Strategy.
“As law enforcement officials we are an essential component here because we can work with partners in other law enforcement agencies to reduce crime and have an effective role, but there has to be more than that,” Shroba said. “There has to be something else, other organizations that come in behind those successful enforcement operations and boost up the community and provide services that they need.”
The new initiative expands existing community outreach partnerships and includes a pledge of ongoing federal support for addiction intervention and prevention.
“We often times do search warrants and we’re interested in one individual in that arrest warrant, or two. There may be six other people at that search warrant,” Shroba said as an example of how those partnerships might work in the field. “They may suffer from some sort of addiction so we strive to provide them with information, points of contact. We’ll even dial the phone number for them if that’s what they need.”
Shroba said that these partnerships will include monetary resources from the DEA, but he didn't want to give a dollar amount.
“We set aside resources for a variety of different programs,” Shroba said. “I’m reluctant to say the amount because I don’t want anybody to think that the participation and the commitment runs out when the money’s gone. That’s not it. We will continue to fund these endeavors for as long as it takes.”
So far the DEA is partnering with 15 community organizations, including a drug treatment center, health departments, and after-school programs.
SSM Health, the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and the St. Louis chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse are also taking part, as are grassroots organizations that have sprung up in response to the heroin epidemic, CRUSH and Walking for Wellness.
Amy Tiemeier of St. Louis College of Pharmacy said Thursday the college teaches pharmacists how to educate their clients about the dangers of prescription painkillers, and also helps collect unused prescriptions.
“We’re taking ownership of the prescription drug part of the problem,” Tiemeier said.
For Kim Carmack of St. Peters, who lost her son Connor to heroin two years ago, the new partnerships represent hope.
“I think it’s awesome to see all these people working together because this is just a terrible epidemic and it’s going to keep going and it takes a community of people and organizations to bring it to an end if we can do that,” said Carmack, who has joined the Walking for Wellness organization, a grassroots group of parents that hold Stop Heroin walks in the St. Louis region.
Pittsburgh launched its 360 Strategy program in November 2015. Milwaukee and West Memphis, Ark. have also been selected as pilot cities for the DEA strategy.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.
An earlier version of this story said Philadelphia was the first city to launch the 360 Strategy.